Lightning Lakes Snow Camp

I know I said I was done with writing about Manning Park, but in addition to doing day snowshoe trips in the park, I have also snow camped there, so I want to share about that adventure too!

It’s been a challenging year for everyone with COVID-19 and our limited ability to travel and see friends. Fortunately the outdoors is a relatively safe space to spend time with friends, so we decided to go on our annual snow camping adventure. We made some notable changes – we all drove separately, prepared our own meals, and brought multiple tents. It wasn’t ideal because Brandon is the only one who owns a winter tent, but Carolyn decided to make do with her 3-season tent and we convinced Steve to join us this year! Steve did avalanche safety training with us this year, so he was interested in expanding his horizons.

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Originally we wanted to do Zoa Peak, but the avalanche risk was particularly high the weekend we went, so we decided to do Lightning Lakes instead since there is very little avalanche terrain there. To be on the safe side, we still rented avalanche gear and practiced finding each other’s beacons to get more familiar and comfortable with the gear.

I won’t spend too much time on trail details as I just wrote a separate post about the Lightning Lakes trail. It was possible to hike on the lake, so we crossed once on the first lake and then followed the trail along the edge of the second lake to the back. I’ve never gone beyond the edge of the second lake, but it’s not too far to snowshoe to the next lake, which is Flash Lake, so we decided to check it out. We weren’t keen on camping on Lightning Lake since there’s a lot of foot traffic and we thought Flash Lake might be more secluded.

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We didn’t see anyone along the Flash Lake trail, but the creek between the two lakes was not frozen and the head of the lake looked very sketchy. If we’d continued further, it likely would have improved, but we decided to turn around and instead found a nice clearing in the woods between the two lakes to set up camp.

Surprisingly there wasn’t actually a huge base of snow at Manning this year, so we didn’t have to dig too deep. In other years we’ve shared shovels, which made digging a bit slower, but this year we each had our own shovel, so even though we had multiple tents to dig out holes for, it ended up being a bit quicker than normal (or maybe we’re just getting better at it?). We dug deeper for Carolyn’s tent since it’s not a winter tent and we made sure to pack in a lot of snow around the edges for extra insulation. Fortunately it was only about -7 degrees overnight and with two people in the tent, they didn’t have any trouble staying warm.

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We all upgraded some of our gear this year, so Steve inherited some of Carolyn’s old snow camping gear and I got to test out my new -30 degree rated sleeping bag. It took me a bit longer than I anticipated to warm up in the bag (you’re only as warm as the heat you bring in with you), but after about an hour I finally got toasty and after that, quite warm. I ended up having to unzip a little bit and slept most of the night with one arm out of the bag, so I’m optimistic it will hold up in colder temperatures. There are very limited options for winter camping sleeping bags and even fewer are available in Canada. I still think some of the features of my bag could be improved, but I do think it was the best option available to me as a side sleeper.

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Like any snow camping trip, by the time you get to your destination, dig out your tents and make your snow kitchen, it’s more or less time to start getting ready for dinner before you lose daylight. We spent some time boiling water and enjoyed hanging out while we cooked our meals. I made the snow kitchen this year and I have to say I thought it turned out quite well! I made the counter/couch out of the pile of snow Carolyn shoveled out for her tent and then shoveled out a pit for one of the stoves. It snowed gently for most of the day and evening, but the clouds did clear a little bit and we got a glimpse of the stars before bed.

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It was around 7pm when we crawled into our tents. I read until around 8pm when I finally got properly warm and then hit the sack. I woke up around midnight to pee and then slept the rest of the night until 8am – definitely one of the better nights sleep I’ve gotten snow camping!

After breakfast we took down camp and then spent some time playing around with our avalanche gear before heading back out to the cars. It doesn’t take too long to hike back along the edge of the lake and we did a few photoshoots along the way. We all have a bit of an obsession with Gregory packs, so we take turns making attempts to get ourselves Gregory sponsorships – so far, no luck, but we still have fun!

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So overall it was a great first snow camping trip in Manning Park. Manning is a bit intimidating because it can get really cold there overnight, but fortunately for us it was pretty comfortable when we visited. Definitely have plans to go back and try camping at some of the other winter trails!

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Snowshoeing Lightning Lakes

After Shadow Lake, Lightning Lakes is one of my favourite places to snowshoe in Manning Park. Unlike Shadow Lake, this trail is outside of the resort managed trails and is free to snowshoe, so subsequently is attracts more traffic. The Lightning Lakes Trail is part of a 24km trail network that goes around both of the Lightning Lakes and then continues on to 3 other lakes. However, in the winter I recommend you just stick to the first two lakes as there’s low avalanche risk on this trail.

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Usually you can park right at the lake day-use area, but pending whether it’s recently snowed and how far into the season it is, they don’t always plow the road to the parking lot, in which case you can park along the main road and snowshoe in. The trail goes around first and second Lightning Lake, which are connected by a small river that runs between the two. There’s a beautiful bridge constructed over the two lakes and you can customize your trip to do either lake (or both). The second lake is my favourite (with the view from the bridge being the highlight), so I usually head clockwise around the first lake, which is the shorter route, to get to the second lake much faster.

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In the winter, the lake usually completely freezes over and most people will snowshoe right across the lake. Be careful if you opt for this route – check the weather the week before visiting to ensure it’s below freezing all week and make sure it’s not too early in the season to cross. I prefer only to cross in January or February. If in doubt, make sure to check the depth of the ice before crossing or just plan to stick to the trail in the trees. Also note that the river between the two lakes rarely ever freezes, even in the middle of the season, so always plan to go back to the summer trail in the trees before getting to the river.

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If you decide to go the long way around both lakes on the summer trail, the distance will be about 8.5km. If you just do the second lake using the summer trail, it’s about 7km. And if you cut across the lake and head to the back of the second lake, it’s about 6km, so there’s lots of room to customize your trail. My preference is usually to walk the summer trail to the back of the second lake and then come back along the edge of the lake (I’m too chicken to go across the middle of the lake, so I’ll walk on it, but stick close to the treeline). I’ve never done the entire first lake in the winter, only in the summer.

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To date, I’ve now snowshoed the lake twice. The first time was a real treat because my parents had come to visit and it was the first year I got to spend Family Day doing an activity with my actual family. We snowshoed to the back of the second lake, had lunch and made some hot chocolate, and then snowshoed back. More recently, I returned and went snow camping in the woods at the back of the second lake, but more on that later because I can definitely write a whole post on that adventure!

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Hiking Lightning Lakes

This is the third post in my Manning Park mini-series, so it’s time to talk about one of Manning’s most popular day hikes – Lightning Lakes. Manning Park has 3 campgrounds inside the park: Hampton, Cold Spring, and Lightning Lakes. I’ve camped at Hampton several times and once at Lightning Lakes. Of the 3, Lightning Lakes is definitely the most popular, so you have to be on the ball when booking, which is why I usually end up at Hampton. The nice thing about Manning Park though is that with 3 campgrounds, you don’t have to book a site right when they release, there’s usually something available.

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So in 2017, me and my friends starting making a car camping trip to Manning Park an annual thing. We drive up after work on Friday, do a short hike on Saturday, and then spend the rest of the weekend taking it easy. Usually our trips are all about physical activities, but our manning trip has always been about lazing at the beach, drinking beer, and playing games. After a big breakfast on Saturday morning, we usually relocate to the Lightning Lakes day use area for the rest of the day to hike, go swimming, and have a BBQ. It’s usually too chilly for swimming in the morning, so we’ve gotten in the habit of exploring around the lake.

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Lightning Lakes is as the name suggests, more than 1 lake. The first lake is located at the Day Use area and you can hang out at the picnic tables or rent a boat to explore for the day. There’s a bit of an offshoot from the lake on the other side of the boat launch and then if you follow the river up from the main lake, there’s a second long lake heading into the backcountry. There is a bridge across the river, so you can opt to do just the bottom lake, just the top lake, or both. The first year we’d intended to do both, but the length of the hike is actually a little bit misleading and it is longer than you think, so we ended up just exploring around the first lake. Then our second year we did the opposite and hiked around the back lake. Whatever you choose, make sure you cross the bridge! In my opinion it’s the most scenic part of the lake. There’s very little elevation gain on the hike, so it makes for a nice leisurely walk.

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As I mentioned, you can also rent boats at the lake. I’ve never done this myself because we have a little rubber dinghy that we usually bring, but some time I would like to rent a canoe and go up the river to the end of the lake. Some people find the lake pretty cold for swimming, but we’ve always enjoyed it. There’s also a large dog beach on the east side of the day use area and it’s fun to watch the ground squirrels popping out of their burrows and running around on the grass.

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I definitely prefer Lightning Lakes in the summer, but it does also make for a great snowshoeing location in the winter. Manning is one of my favourite places to snowshoe because unlike the North Shore and the Sea to Sky, it consistently gets snow all winter, so there’s always been fresh powder around when I’ve gone out there. This past winter I went out when my parents were visiting and we snowshoed up to the end of the second lake. We followed the trail on the way up and walked back across the lake. Careful doing this obviously – make sure it’s mid-winter and that’s it’s been cold for a while surrounding your visit.

So if you’re looking for a short, fun, and scenic hike; Lightning Lakes makes for a great pick any time of year!